Oliver Christmann. Dialectic of images – painting between construction and intuition.
by Dr. Theresa Nisters [Translated from German]
Painting is “art, the sole area of which, in contrast to architecture and sculpture, is the surface.” Etymologically, the name of the artistic genre is derived from the Old High German verb “mālōn”, the meaning of which is different activities such as “making a sign” or “delimiting” , “Decorate with color”, “color”, “write”, and “design in the mind”. Even before the concept of an autonomous art, which is valid today, was defined, painting already existed as a creative practice that implied both the material process of applying paint, which draws boundaries, and the conceptual achievement of sign production.
The painting of Oliver Christmann goes to the bottom of this conception. Christmann’s pictures live from the vibration of colored fields that set themselves apart, collide, blur and thus ultimately form a balanced whole. The bilateral image structure reveals the structure of the artistic process. Because Christmann constructs his pictures through the continuous repetition of two contradicting gestures. Layer by layer, the painter applies acrylic paint to the canvas in order to undo the work that has just been completed by scraping off fresh layers of paint. The colorful surfaces of his pictures accordingly reflect the ambivalent dynamics of covering and uncovering, revealing and concealing, creating and destroying, which produce them. At the same time they evoke an effect of depth in the close juxtaposition, the overlap and penetration of the most varied of color qualities, which opens the surface of the image carrier into the room.
The lively colors of his paintings, however, are not the result of a spontaneous, purely intuitive application of paint, but rather the result of a lengthy constructive process. From the conscious choice of painterly utensils to the precise setting of individual color accents, Christmann creates color spaces reflected in superimposed grid and dot structures. Just as the multi-layered surfaces of the canvases reveal the history of their creation in fragments, the painting process is also chanted by moments of pause, the necessary drying times for the individual layers of paint. The different densities of the paint application as well as its respective degree of dryness before the next work step determine how strongly the different nuances flow into one another and mix. If Christmann has established a wealth of experience in the course of his painting practice that makes it possible to assess the result of his dualistic gestures of paint application and removal, the interaction of the different layers of paint in the end result remains, to a certain extent, “simply a surprise” for the artist. The painter emphasizes this unconquerable autonomy of painting, which can be “designed in the spirit” but not completely controlled, by only finally reacting to the picture created by exposing the various layers of paint. So the interaction of the different layers of paint in the end result remains to a certain extent “simply a surprise” for the artist.
If the work process ends with an unsatisfactory result, the painting is discarded, but is incorporated into the wealth of experience from which new color constructions arise. Christmann only maintains balanced compositions whose color gradients and shapes correspond in harmony. From these, the painter divides a particularly successful, expressive part with a straight, mostly vertical borderline and paints over the rest of the picture surface almost monochrome. The monochrome color field, which is not completely opaque, contrasts with the agitated vibrato of the multi-part color structures as a calm pole, contrasts the organically looking color gradients and contrasts with a clear level. This apparently antagonistically emphasizes the depth effect of the multicolored color space that opposes it, however, on closer inspection it does not turn out to be an opaque surface. Rather, the covered layers create a play of shadow zones and spots of light on the covering monochrome, through which it is structured and emphasized in its colored materiality. It thus conceals the same layers and forms of color that emerge in the open colored structure. Christmann chooses the respective density and color of the monochrome section in the course of the work process. This interdependence of the two color fields is the reason for the ultimately homogeneous image impression. Because it does not consist of two opponents, as the first cursory glance might suggest, but merges into a coherent whole through the painter’s dialectical approach. Rather, the covered layers create a play of shadow zones and spots of light on the covering monochrome, through which it is structured and emphasized in its colored materiality.
In the interplay of construction and intuition, Christmann grants the picture its independence as a painterly symbol. His painting does not serve as a representative of a message conveyed by it, it does not reveal itself easily to the viewer’s gaze, but rather challenges him to a conscious perceptual act in which it functions as an independent counterpart. In this dialogical situation, Christmann’s pictures stimulate the seeing eye, sending it on a journey across diverse color landscapes, the surfaces of which reveal the many layers of their history. Unpredictable product of a clearly calculated strategy, Christmann’s painting preserves a freedom that both for the pictures in relation to clear attributions, as well as for its creator in the work process as well as for the viewer in his interpretation. The visible traces of the painting gestures provide the opportunity for associations, allow an understanding on several levels of the painterly: in addition to the pure perception of the colors, their interplay and the tensions arising from the clash of different surfaces, the viewer can become aware of the materiality of the color paste, which does not cover the whole area, but has a pastose structure, and which ultimately enables references to non-pictorial reality.
In this regard, Christmann’s pictures make painting the subject of painting.
In the dialectic of their structure, they question the surface as the sole area of painting, cross the formal boundaries of the canvas and refer to the polyphony of painting as a historical, cultural practice. This is neither to be reduced to a mere representation function, nor is it to be misunderstood in its abstraction as a pure expression of the artist. In spite of its complex construction, it does not exclusively address the intellectual abilities of its viewer, but rather conveys intensity and physicality through the color and remains open to figurative interpretations. In the harmony of all these aspects, Christmann gives his painting an unmistakable existence.